Toasting Traditions Around the World: To Our Health!
One of the most important things to know about a country or a culture is how to participate in–or better yet, propose–a toast! Unfortunately, though, due to the current situation with COVID-19, our toasts will have to remain local for the time being. But one thing is for sure–I can’t wait to get back out into the world, chat with some bartenders, and raise a glass of bubbly to the good health of my friends, family, and new acquaintances! If you are like me, and you are also getting antsy to travel again, I thought I would share with you some different traditions for making toasts or saying cheers around the world.
To Our Health!
Let’s start with my home away from home–France! Of course, you’ve probably heard me mention the classic way to toast in French, which is santé. The word literally means “health,” which is a very common toast across Western Europe. In Spanish, it’s salud, in Portuguese, it’s saude, in Italian, it’s saluti or alla salute, and in Irish, it’s sláinte. Of course, raising a glass to the health of your drinking companions is a very old tradition, but one that is especially good to know in our current day and age, too!
Another very common way to toast in Europe, and really, around the world, is to say cincin (pronounced “chin-chin”), which comes from Italian. The actual origins of the phrase are debated–some people believe it to be an onomatopoeia for the sound that the two glasses make when clinking. Others have suggested that it comes from the Italian vermouth brand, Cinzano, where two friends clinking glasses of vermouth would say “Cin, Cin.” It’s also been suggested that the phrase actually came from the Chinese, qǐng qǐng, meaning “please please” and exported to European ports by Canton sailors. Wherever it came from, though, this toast is certainly a good one to know!
In many Spanish-speaking countries, a longer, rhyming toast is often proposed among friends or family: Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa’ dentro! The participants start by raising their glasses (arriba, or up), lowering them (abajo, or down), bringing them to the center of the group (al centro, or to the middle) and lastly, taking a sip (pa’ dentro, short for para dentro or to the inside). This is a lively toast that can also help you remember some important prepositions in Spanish!
Beware of the Curse
If you’ve been to any kind of Oktoberfest celebration, you’ve probably heard the German word for cheers, which is prost, though you might also hear the phrase zum Wohl. Traditionally, prost was used more for toasting with beer, though nowadays you’ll hear it for everything. Zum Wohl is another form of the classic cheers to good health, meaning “to wellness/well-being.” Whichever toast you use, the important thing is to remember to look your companions in the eyes when you toast–otherwise, you’ll be cursed with seven years of bad sex! Better safe than sorry!
Georgia on my Mind
Toasting is a very important part of Georgian culture, and there are said to be some 150 “basic” toasts in Georgian! At a celebration, one person is appointed the role of tamada, or toastmaster, and it is their job to create the right drinking atmosphere and initiate new rounds of toasts. Adding a personal touch is also an important part of the toastmaking; the tamada will typically start a specific toast, and the guests will take turns raising their glasses and adding in some personal details or thoughts, giving the toast a speech- or story-like quality. The Georgian word for proposing a toast is dalotsya, which translates to “to say a prayer.” A typical toast might be raised “to our meeting,” “to those who have passed away,” “to Georgia,” or “to those who could not be at the table but are present in everyone’s thoughts,” for example. To propose a toast, you should know the phrase gaumarjos, which means “the toast is to.”
Speak Softly and Carry a Big (Walking) Stick
You may have heard the phrase na zdorovie as a way to say cheers in Russian, though more commonly, you’ll hear people saying cincin just like in Italy! As in Georgia, it is typical to have several toasts throughout the night, with different toasts being raised to different people or events. At the end of the night, you might hear na pososhok as a toast to the last drink of the evening. This toast is used to wish the departing guests a safe trip home, as pososhok means walking stick in Russian and was traditionally used on a long journey.
Japan is well-known for its unique traditions and ceremonies, and making a toast is no exception. To say cheers, use the Japanese word kampai, which means empty cup (like “bottoms up” in English). You should wait until everyone has their drink before toasting and drinking, and be sure that your glass remains lower than that of the most senior person in the group. It can also be considered bad manners to pour your own drink, so you should let yourself be taken care of by the others in your group. In return, be sure to keep an eye on your companions’ glasses, filling them up when they get low. If you can’t drink any more, leave your glass full, otherwise you will keep getting served!
I hope this article taught you at least one new toast to use on your future travels, whether near or far. If you have other toasting traditions that I didn’t mention here, I’d love to hear them. For now, I’ll be raising a glass to the health of you and all of my followers: santé!